Hang around any writerly type watering hole long enough and the acronym is bound to come up.  And if you read a book that has the heroine running out onto an abandoned street with gun toting bad guys in pursuit, you might very well find yourself thinking it.  But, at 34 and having done my fair share of stupid things, I’m not sure it’s completely true.

When are characters Too Stupid To Live?

I was actually talking to writers group a couple weeks ago when this topic came up.  It’s a common saying and you do see characters doing a lot of stupid things in books it’s true, but have you watched the news lately?  People do stupid things.  And if you’re going to write realistic characters, they’re probably going to do stupid things from time to time as well.

And is it better to have them do nothing at all as their love is being beaten by gun carrying mofia member?  Yes, we want them to be smart and figure out a truly ingenious way of taking out the bad guy, I understand that.  But in the heat of the moment, how many of us would be able to figure out the perfect offence to save our love?  And if we couldn’t figure out the right thing to do, would it be reasonable to expect our average, ordinary hero or heroine to be able to?

So, do we have a double standard when it comes to our fiction?

I think it’s a yes and no.  I really sat back and thought about this one.  Yes, I’ve made mistakes.  I’ve made mistakes that could have been disastrous.  I’ve known people who’ve made mistakes that were disastrous.  But those mistakes were in character.  They were in context.  They were in situations where another option wasn’t readily available.

As a writer, you know your characters, you know their options, you can make up new options for them they didn’t even know existed.  So I think the readers do expect the story and characters to be thought out.  In some ways, I do believe they expect the story to be better than real life.

That’s not to say the characters shouldn’t make mistakes, but their mistakes should make some degree of sense.  Their mistakes should be something that’s in character and in context.  It should be something the reader can sympathize with, not something you need them to do to move the plot along.

So I’ve touched on a couple of my favorite TSTL moments in books, do you have any?  Maybe the nice girl who falls for the ass?  Or maybe a mistake the hero/heroine made that you liked?

2 Responses to “TSTL”
  1. Cara Bristol says:

    My thought about fiction is that it needs to be better than real. Truth is it’s own defense, so when people do stupid things in real life, it’s believable because it’s true. But fiction doesn’t have truth as a foundation. So when a story stops the reader and the reader thinks, “that doesn’t happen” or “this person is too stupid to live,” that’s NOT good. Also it’s hard to have sympathy for a character who is stupid.

  2. I fell fast and hard for Anita Blake years and years ago. (The early Anita Blake. I’m talking the first five or six books) I think her character perfectly illustrates your point. She didn’t always make the right/smart decision, but she did what she thought was necessary at the time. Her introspection supported and explained her “whys”. Her character was so dimensional and real that we could follow along and taste her reasoning with her.

    Just this week I was thinking about suspension of disbelief. What makes a reader willing to follow an author to another dimension, but draw the line at a Starbucks with no line? lol My conclusion was that it always comes back to the writing. If decisions are supported by good writing, they’ll never be stupid even when they would be out of context.

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